Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Anger Management On Almuric!

This novel by Robert E. Howard is a puzzler of sorts. It was not published until after his death, when it was serialized in Weird Tales in 1939. Some are suspicious of the authorship, though I don't think there is a groundswell on this point.

The story was adapted to comics form by Roy Thomas and Will Conrad many years ago in Epic magazine. I still have those issues, but I don't have great memory of the adventure. It's been something I've been going to get around to reading for some time. Yesterday I did.

Esau Cairn, the hero of this adventure, finds himself on the planet Almuric by means of a process which is kept secret by the scientist who sent him. It's a clever dodge and points up the fact that the means is of almost no importance to this type of tale. It's sufficient that it worked and let's get on with the show. Cairn is one of the most unlikeable rogues I've ever encountered in fiction. He's a misanthropic brute who is beset by extreme anger management issues. He takes his pugilistic attitudes to his new planet and almost immediately mugs a native for his gear. Later it's shown this guy was a baddie, but I can't get over how Cairn is one of those narcissistic thugs who feels that all the world (and in this case other worlds too) are set against him.

Cairn brags constantly how much better he is than most men and how unusually suited to this new hostile environment he is. It gets a bit tiresome to read his constant bleating on these points. After months in the wild, he at last seeks civilization and finds that the main population of the planet is a gang of barbarians arranged in cities which war with one another all the time. The men are beastly but the women of course are lovely and he finds himself instantly attracted to one in particular, a dame named Altha. Cairn of course finds himself included in this barbarian society, but never seems grateful for the honor the culture affords him. Instead he seems to think they are very lucky to have him.

The main story gets underway when black winged creatures, demons of a sort appear who feast on human flesh and basically lord it over the planet. Of course the dame gets kidnapped and the adventure is on.

The story in Almuric is briskly paced, typical of a Howard story, but even more so. The pedal seems down to the floor from the get go. There is no sense of depth to many of the characters, they merely perform their functions as loyal companions or sniggering enemies as the plot requires. The framework of the story is similar to Edgar Rice Burroughs in his Mars and Venus novels, but in this one the point of view is relentlessly with our "hero" Esau.

Almuric is a diverting entertainment. Some suggest its roughness comes from the fact it's an early draft of a story Howard meant to polish later. That makes sense. It has that kind of rough-hewn character. A major strength of a Howard story is his amazing ability to draw the reader in, and despite my animus to Esau Cairn as a particularly unlikeable character, this story does just that. There's no putting it down once you start it. You must find out how it ends.

I recommend this to Howard fans for sure, but then most Howard fans already know. For others, I'd say don't start with this one. Check out some of Howard's more polished and atmospheric material before allowing the frightful Esau Cairn to be your first blush with a Howardian hero.

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  1. When I read "Almuric" with an eye toward doing a NUELOW Games e-book edition, I said to myself, "I'm going to have do some trimming to make Esau just a little less prickish if I do this."

    I don't know we'll ever do one... but I'm glad to know I'm not alone in my reaction to that character. :)

  2. I'm rather interested by your dislike of Esau, more so because of your reasons for disliking him ar the exact reasons I find him so fascinating: he's a man who is completely unsuited for modern civilized life, but rather than adapt or present himself as some sort of noble savage, he almost seems to purposely rebel against it. His own hostility just breeds more contempt and resentment, until eventually it boils over when he goes too far, the only escape being offered offworld. As a result, he takes to a savage world like a duck to water. It's a psychological case study of the vicious cycle of hate and violence. It's a bit like Robert Neville in I Am Legend, who some criticise for his latent misogyny: part of me thinks "well, yes, that's kind of the point."

    Regarding the authorship: Morgan Holmes' detective work leaves zero doubt that Almuric was incomplete, since it was advertised in Weird Tales as being unfinished. Exactly who finished it is more a matter of debate: Holmes puts a strong case for Otto Binder, though Otis Kline's also been put forward. Generally speaking most who have studied the matter seem to agree that it's all Howard with (at most) some alterations up until the final chapter, which is either drawn from Howard's synopsis (Howard tended to dwindle into synopses in his drafts) or written whole cloth.

  3. Steve - And likewise. It's good to hear that someone else sees Esau's...er salty nature. :)

    Taranich - Thanks for the info on the creation of the story. Otto Binder is a name to conjure with, not one I'd have thought of.

    And while I do find Esau unlikeable, I do think he's fascinating. Pungently disagreeable characters can be compelling, but in Esau's case it's very hard to develop any empathy for him since he seems such an utter brute. He is defined by his anger for sure, and maybe if the story had seen him moderate that as he becomes part of the culture he admires, then it might make better sense thematically. He's a misanthrope for sure, a pure example and that's compelling on its own I suppose.

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